In this article, Lavanya Verma deals with How are overbilling, service disconnection and other unjustified fraudulent ways towards CUG and postpaid customers of Vodafone, TATA Indicom CDMA and other network providers regulated by TRAI?
Postpaid mobile service often poses a problem to the users in terms of billing, service conditions, etc. The company does not inform you of latest available plans. What’s worse is, it does not take instructions to disconnect services and over-bills for a few months.
In CUG (Closed User Groups) plans, it may disconnect the entire office for non-payment of such unjustified and excessive bills too, thus coercing you to pay. Customer support teams just don’t explain the bill calculation. They promise they will waive certain charges and then they don’t, and their follow-up team chases you for payments for services you never used or signed up for. The author has experienced this with both Tata Indicom CDMA and Vodafone.
How does TRAI regulate this? Can the license of these network operators be canceled for these activities? Can they be fined?
The telecommunication industry influences every aspect of our lives, from providing telephonic communication facility to people or groups at various locations to providing supply-chains for hassle-free work across the globe. Telecom services are now acknowledged as a key to the speedy growth of the economy and a vital aspect for fulfilling demands for socioeconomic development of the nation.
Post- Paid and CUG Telecom subscribers are “Consumers.”
- Unlike Postpaid telecom subscribers, a Closed User group (CUG) is a supplementary service provided by the mobile network operators to make and receive calls or SMS from member associated within the group. There will be an administrative owner who will be responsible for invoicing. Irrespective of this a CUG member can make and receive calls to and from other networks, other than CUG group too. Now let’s see whether postpaid and CUG telecom subscribers are considered consumers or not.
- According to the Consumer Protection Act, 1986, section 2(c)(iv)(d) you are a “consumer” if you willingly hire or avail any services on making payments and if there is any beneficiary of such services who is different from you, also, if you are availing services for exclusively earning livelihood by means of self- employment then it is not included in any commercial purpose and you are a consumer.
Thus, relying on the above definition of consumers, postpaid and CUG (closed user group) subscribers of telecom network operators are eligible to file a complaint for,
- An unfair trade practice adopted by any service provider
- Deficiency in services hired or availed;
- A service provider has overcharged for the goods.
The government has laid down rules for operation, standards of quality service etc, in favor of subscribers, for monitoring conduct of service providers. Violation of these rules by the network operators opens the gate for consumers to file complaints as in the subsequent section of this article.
Governmental body responsible for maintaining a check on standard of quality in telecom sector
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is vested with the powers to check working of telecom operators. TRAI is an autonomous statutory regulatory body of the Indian telecommunications industry, established under Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997 (“TRAI Act”).
How does TRAI regulate network operators
The 1997 Act empowered TRAI with quasi-judicial authority to adjudicate upon and settle telecom disputes. Later this Act was amended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Act, 2000 to bring in better clarity and distinction between the regulatory and recommendatory functions of TRAI.
Standards for Quality of Service
The Government of India, Ministry of Communications and IT department of telecommunication prescribes various conditions like quality of service, tariffs, operating conditions etc, in the license agreement of the telecom network operators. Any deviance from the agreed conditions opens gates for TRAI to take necessary action against the operators or even cancellation of the issued license as evitable from the past when the Apex Court canceled 122 telecom licenses due to non-compliance with rules and regulations and terms of an agreement issued by TRAI.
Also, as the Standards of Quality of Service of Basic Telephone Service (Wireline) and Cellular Mobile Telephone Service Regulations 2009 are the rules and regulations which are issued and amended from time to time by TRAI for regulating the conduct of the service providers. For e.g.,. the circular dated 20.3.09 regarding the termination of service within 7 days or for providing hard copy of bills to subscribers.
Telecom Laws and Regulations for service operator
The power to grant licenses to private bodies to operate as Indian telecom service providers is vested with the Government on conditions it deems fit. This power to provide telecommunications services in India is a proviso of the exclusive privilege granted by the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.
It is interesting to note the observations made by the Supreme Court in this respect in the case of Delhi Science Forum v Union of India “Central Government is expected to put such conditions while granting licences, which shall safeguard the public interest and the interest of the nation. Such conditions should be commensurate with the obligations that flow while parting with the privilege which has been exclusively vested in the Central Government by the Act.”
In the case of General Manager, Telecom v M. Krishna and Anr a dispute arose regarding the non-payment of bills by the respondent due to which the telephone connection of the respondent was disconnected. The Apex Court held that as there is a special remedy of arbitration available as provided in the Indian Telegraph Act thus the remedy under the Consumer Protection Act, is by implication barred. It is well settled that a special law overrides a general law.
Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT)
Established in 2000 under an amendment to TRAI Act, 1997, TDSAT has exclusive powers to adjudicate any dispute arising between
- the licensor (DoT) and a licensee;
- service providers; and
- service providers and groups of customers.
Appeals from the TDSAT decision can be filed only with the Supreme Court of India.
The TRAI Telecom consumer complaints monitoring system also assists in the prescribed matter.
Enlisted procedure must be followed by customers for resolution of telecom complaint laid down for consumer protection
- Visit the company site and find the proper complaint procedure. Look for “Manual of Practice.” Find the prescribed complaints/grievances procedure as specified by the operator.
- Next is to call all India customer care number and register your complaint and obtain a docket number. As per TRAI regulation says that operators must not take much time but sufficient enough to resolve your complaint.
- Send the complaint to Nodal Officer (as mentioned on the operator’s website) in your circle if not satisfied. It must not take more than 10 days to redress your complaint.
- Go to Appellate Authority (as mentioned on their website) in your circle if not satisfied yet.
- If still, you are not satisfied then register your complaint in National Consumer Helpline or pursue your case in the local Consumer Court.
Telecom Consumer Complaint Redressal. Procedure to be followed by Network operators
TRAI has laid down complaint redressal procedure that needs to be necessarily followed by all the Indian telecom operator like Vodafone, Reliance, Tata Indicom etc. There are many instances when we see telecom subscribers break their head over some complaint and end up frustrated with their service providers as the company does not heed to their problems.
Also in large corporations like Vodafone, Tata Indicom, or Reliance, it is very difficult to let customers follow the arbitrary complaint redressal procedures thus you must not just call their office to register a complaint. The correct procedure for this situation is to contact the network operators all India customer care helpline and get a docket number for your complaint.
In exercise of the powers conferred by section 36, read with sub-clauses (i) and (v) of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 11, of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India Act, 1997, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India hereby makes the regulations regarding,
Directions for Redressal of complaints from telecom consumers by network operators
- Every service provider must have a Complaint Centre accessible to the consumers between 0800 hrs and 2400 hrs on all days of the week.
- Every service provider should deploy a sufficient number of employees at its Complaint Centres to meet the “Quality of Service” parameters, as may be specified by the Authority from time to time.
- Every service provider should ensure that the Complaint Centre is accessible to its consumers through a “Consumer Care Number” having sufficient lines or connections.
- Every service provider shall ensure that the Complaint Center is also accessible through the network of other service providers by earmarking a specific number.
- Setting up of General Information Number by service providers for customers
- Publication of Information by service providers.
- Establishment of Complaint Monitoring System of service provider.
- Handling of complaints by service provider Complaint Centre.
Time limit for redressal of complaints or addressing service requests of consumers by service providers
- Every service provider should ensure redressal of the complaints and service requests in accordance with the time frame as specified under the Quality of Service regulations issued by the Authority.
- Where a time limit has not been specified under the Quality of Service regulations issued by the Authority, the complaints and service requests shall be addressed within a time period not exceeding three days.
Appeal to appellate authority for redressal of consumer complaints
Appeal to Appellate Authority.-
- Where a consumer is not satisfied with the redressal of his complaint by the Complaint Centre, or his complaint remains unaddressed or no intimation of redressal of the complaint is received within the period specified in regulation 8, such consumer may prefer an appeal to the Appellate Authority of the concerned service provider for redressal of his complaint.
- A consumer may prefer an appeal before the Appellate Authority under sub-regulation (1) either through e-mail or facsimile or post, or in person;
- Every appeal under sub-regulation shall be preferred within a period of thirty days after expiry of the time limit specified in regulation; provided that the Appellate Authority may entertain an appeal after the expiry of the said period of thirty days but before three months from the expiry of the time limit specified in regulation, if it is satisfied that there was sufficient cause for not filing it within that period.
- No fee shall be charged from a consumer for filing an appeal before the Appellate Authority.
Citizen’s charter –
Every Service provider should publish a ‘Citizen’s Charter,’ within sixty days of the coming into force of these regulations containing the following information:
- name and address of the service provider;
- services offered by the service provider, including the details of geographic areas where such services are available;
- terms and conditions of service offered by the service provider;
- Quality of Service parameters specified by the Authority in respect of each of the services;
- Quality of Service promised by the service provider in respect of each service and geographic area;
- details about equipment offered to the consumer by the service provider in respect of any of the services;
- right of consumers under the different regulations, orders and directions issued by the Authority; and in particular those relating to Tariff, Mobile Number Portability, Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2010 (TCCCPR) and Value Added Services (VAS);
- the duties and obligations of the service provider under the different regulations, orders and directions issued by the Authority; and in particular those relating to Tariff, Mobile Number Portability, TCCCPR, and VAS;
- General Information Number; and
- Consumer Care Number of the service provider
For example the vodafone Citizen’s charter provides the list of all the necessary attached details along with service information to its customers which must be complied by the network operator as promised in the charter. Non-adherence to its own terms and service conditions for which the consumers subscribe to their network is a fraudulent act on their part.
TRAI has laid down specific and detailed rules and regulations for the conduct of service providers in order to safeguard the interest of the consumers. From time to time TRAI has taken necessary steps like steps for cancellations of operator’s license or imposing hefty penalty on service providers. Recently, in January 2017, TRAI imposed over Rs. 11 crore penalty on Aircel for poor service including call drops. Penalty of Rs 2.27 crore was imposed on BSNL, Rs 1.64 crore on Reliance Communications, Rs 84 lakh Vodafone, Rs 89 lakh on Tata Teleservices, Rs 40 lakh on Bharti Airtel, Rs 13.5 lakh on Telenor, Rs 3 lakh on Sistema and Rs 1.5 lakh on MTNL for failing to meet 2G service quality parameters.
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